Peace Group Says P500-M Hunt for Bravo, Kato Prolonging Agony of Evacuees

The peace coalition Kalinaw Mindanao criticized the Arroyo government for spending P500 million ($10,216,591) in its military operations against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), describing it as “irrational, wasteful of public funds, and prolonging the agony of half a million war refugees.”

BY BULATLAT
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

The peace coalition Kalinaw Mindanao criticized the Arroyo government for spending P500 million ($10,216,591 based on the November 3 exchange rate of $1=P48.94) in its military operations against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), describing it as “irrational, wasteful of public funds, and prolonging the agony of half a million war refugees.”

”There is money for firearms, cannons, bombs, and bullets, but none for rice, medicines, and shelter for half-a-million evacuees in Mindanao,” the group said in an Oct. 31 statement sent to media.

The group, which launched a recent National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission (NIHM) in Central Mindanao provinces, said the war has only brought a bigger crisis to Mindanao in the form of 500,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).

��Two MILF commanders at the expense of half-a-million displaced persons: that is how disproportionate the war is,” says the group.

Lt. Gen. Cardozo Luna, deputy chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), told local government officials at the Pryce Hotel in Cagayan de Oro City last Oct. 25 that for bullets alone, the military had spent some P286 million ($5,843,890) in operations in North Cotabato, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao while expenditures for fuel had reached some P227 million ($4,638,332).

Meanwhile, data from the Office of Civil Defense show that the aid which has poured in for the 500,000 people displaced by the fighting in Mindanao has amounted to P78 million ($1,593,788) – which translates to less than P200 ($4.08) per person.

”And yet, despite quickly mobilizing its resources for war, the government is barely providing relief services to evacuees in 354 villages and has seemingly turned over this responsibility to foreign aid agencies,” the group noted.

”We assert that military spending should be re-channeled to these basic services which government had already reneged on long before the war erupted,” the group said.

Kalinaw Mindanao, which visited the IDPs in North Cotabato, Maguindanao and Lanao del Norte, witnessed the conditions in evacuation centers in schools and gymnasiums and found, among other things, that:

1) Congested centers and lack of sanitation facilities and water have resulted to outbreak of illness such as measles and skin diseases among children. Lack of relief and health-care services also contributed to the malnutrition of children.

2) Relief operations for far-flung areas are sometimes blocked by the military due to its operations, as earlier reports said the military once diverted a relief from entering Moro areas.

3) Some families had to budget their three kilos of rice so that they can consume this for a week.

The group said that relief and dole outs may give immediate relief, but failing to resolve the issues of conflict will prolong the suffering, and temporary food aid will be for naught.

Kalinaw Mindanao calls on the Arroyo government to immediately stop the military offensives and allow the evacuees to return home. They also called on the government to take full responsibility for the rehabilitation of villages destroyed by war and the indemnification of victims.

The group’s interfaith mission notes that evacuees have set up makeshift tents even in the highways such as in Maguindanao. Others have set up tents in or have occupied madrasahs and public schools. In Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte, four classrooms of the Geronimo National High School were made into shelters for the displaced. In Poona Piagapo, spaces in the municipal hall have accommodated evacuees.

Classes have been suspended for two months now in the municipalities of Munai and Poona Piagapo, both in Lanao del Norte, where public schools and madrasahs are serving as evacuation centers. (Bulatlat.com)

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